Bear caught at school shot legally

MEDFORD — A young black bear captured Oct. 14 at Lone Pine Elementary School and released deep into the mountains northeast of Klamath Falls returned to the outskirts of Medford and was legally shot Friday by a hunter, wildlife officials said Tuesday.

The young male bear traveled 78 air miles in 10 days before it was shot near Hillcrest Road less than two miles from Medford's city limits, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. State wildlife biologists attempted to relocate the bear because they believed it inadvertently wandered into the city and was not a threat to people.

But like so many other relocated wildlife, the bear apparently had a strong affinity for the area and beat feet here quickly, said Steve Niemela, an ODFW wildlife biologist.

"This bear was drugged and spent 99 percent of its travel time in a crate in the back of a pickup," Niemela said Tuesday. "How it was able to orient itself without any reference points or landmarks is a pretty impressive feat.

"It's an amazing distance, considering it had to cross the Cascades," Niemela said. "It could have gone hundreds of miles."

Bears are widely known to become habituated to specific areas and food, particularly if they start focusing on garbage, bird feeders and other human sources of food, Niemela said.

"It's very difficult to break their habits," Niemela said. "(But) we don't know whether he would have gone right into town or stayed outside."

Sally Mackler, wildlife chairwoman for the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bear's death stands as a lesson for people to do their best not to lure animals intentionally or accidentally into urban settings.

"A lot of times, relocation sounds warm and fuzzy, but it may not be the answer," Mackler said. "The phrase, 'A fed bear is a dead bear' exists for a reason.

"It's just very sad," Mackler said. "It's really unfortunate what happened to him."

The bear was first seen before dawn Oct. 14 wandering through northeast Medford streets. It ended up running into the Lone Pine school playground about 8 a.m. as tardy students straggled into the school classrooms, most of which have doors opening to outside walkways.

The bear ran up a small tree and stayed there as school officials notified police and put the 533 students on precautionary lock-down.

But many students watched through windows as an ODFW biologist fired a tranquilizing dart into the bear, which plopped out of the tree and was hauled away.

The bear weighed about 90 pounds, and likely was about 11/2 years old with a thick cinnamon coat.

The sleeping bear was released into national forestland northeast of Klamath Falls, where it ambled away with a headache and special ear-tags to warn any sport-hunters about eating the bear's meat for the next month.

The incident was largely lauded as a relocation success story until Monday, when a Phoenix hunter brought the bear's skull to the ODFW office near White City as part of the mandatory check-in of hunter-killed bears.

Ear-tags identified it as the Lone Pine bear, Niemela said.

Since the meat still could contain tranquilizer chemicals, the hunter will bring the carcass to the ODFW and his bear tag will be re-validated, Niemela said.

The ODFW typically kills bears accustomed to humans or human food, but relocation efforts occasionally are attempted when the animal has no documented damage or human-safety issues associated with it.

People can reduce their propensity to help habituate a bear to humans by keeping their garbage inside garages or secure areas, not leaving bird feeders out and feeding pets inside, Niemela said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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